Say “yes” more than you say “no”

Written by Sara Vitale

After 30 plus hours and three airports, I was finally stepping off the plane and putting my feet on Canadian soil. My boyfriend was standing at the gate, bouquet of flowers in hand peeking out from behind a crowd of people. For a minute I felt like I was in a romantic comedy, preferably Love Actually—that’s my favourite. A big lump formed in my throat as the distance between us became smaller until I was standing in front of him and he kissed me hello. To continue my romantic cliché, being away from him was hard. There were so many moments in Tanzania that I wished I could have shared with someone I loved. The hardest part of my whole experience however is trying to answer his first question, “How was it?”

How could I sum it up in a sentence or a short conversation?  To be honest, I still haven’t managed to do that successfully since I’ve arrived home. 7 months later, I find myself referencing my experiences in every day conversations and at the same time it almost feels like a dream. To someone who has only seen the developing world through the ruse of a five star resort you appear to be some sort of serial do-gooder or perhaps a fool for investing so much money, time, and energy to essentially work for free. I’ve had so many heated discussions and so many misguided reactions to my choice to volunteer but alas it makes for an interesting exchange. My answer to why I made the decision to go is quite simply that I wanted to broaden my horizons and have a series of small moments with people that I otherwise would never have met. The experience brought me a truer understanding of the fact that life is so much more meaningful when it is spent supporting others, having educated conversations, and loving one another. It sounds so obvious but I think it’s easy to forget when you’re caught up in school or finding a career or worrying about having enough money to maybe one day move out of your dad’s basement.

Though I wished that my entire trip could have been seen through rose coloured glasses, there were some moments that weren’t perfect, there were moments that broke my heart, there were moments that made me feel like a huge stereotype, moments that deeply angered me, and then there were some teachable moments, lots of laughs, singing, dancing, delicious food and many run ins with cockroaches. I was so lucky to meet Danielle, a seasoned volunteer who guided my clueless self around the city of Arusha. It is thanks to her and the countless others including the staff at the Umoja Center, the wonderful children and mamas at House of Happinesss, and the amazing YCI staff and volunteers in Zanzibar, that I was able to leave Tanzania with beautiful memories. Truth be told I miss it so much and hope to return one day when I am able to stay longer!

During my stay I worked as a sexual health teacher at the Umoja Center and spent my evenings with the children at House of Happiness. The classrooms at the Umoja Center are damp, dark, former chicken coops. The students and staff try to brighten them up with signs and drawings but the center could definitely use some new facilities. The staff is actually working very hard to acquire funds in order to purchase their own land and build a new center. Many of the books in the library have developed mold in their pages because of the dampness. Strangely, despite their physical state, I felt right at home in the classrooms at the Umoja center. Each and every one of my students was glorious and bursting with desire to learn, question, talk about music, create art pieces, and fiddle with the computers in the lab. They were just like my students at home, idolizing Beyonce, falling in love and then two days later falling out of it, trying to fit in with their peers, wanting to be somebody, and be recognized for their unique qualities. One of my students in particular completely inspired me, her name is Beatrice and she is an example to women everywhere. My favourite moment of my entire experience was when she told me about being a “super girl”. The term refers to being an independent woman who gets her own university education regardless of what anyone tells her. It refers to valuing yourself over doing everything to please your boyfriend or your family and it was the most poignant thing that has ever been said to me. I’m happy to say she is now attending college, where I hope that she is still challenging the box that society places women in.

Teaching sexual health to a group of youth not much younger than I am (one of my students was but a year younger than me) was rather daunting at first. With the help of two remarkable teachers, I was able to put together meaningful lessons that allowed my students to debate hot topics, ask questions without fear of judgment, and have some fun along the way.

I didn’t know very much about Tanzania when I arrived but I left armed with all sorts of insights, understanding, and memories. I learnt that when faced with a cockroach, I turn into a ninja with repellent in order to eradicate them. I ate so much chips mayai and it might have once been out of a plastic bag because I love it that much. I still can’t quite duplicate the recipe at home so if anyone has any talent for this dish, please do not hesitate to email me! I danced until the wee hours at Via Via with new friends. I went to birthday parties, listened to church songs, and even attended a Tanzanian wedding! I went to Zanzibar by myself where I was pleased to make the acquaintance of a guy named Oki Dokie (yup, that’s real), saw dolphins, stuck my toes in the Indian Ocean, and learned of Sultans and Princesses. I realized that there is nothing more powerful than the goodness of people and that we can change the world we live in to be more a sustainable, accepting place where everyone can fulfill their potentials.

With that I leave you with my final piece of advice if you’re thinking of volunteering with YCI: make your own adventure. It’s ok to be nervous or maybe even a little scared but what matters is that you take the leap and say “yes” more than you say “no” because who knows where you’ll go if you do!

About the author:

After returning home from Tanzania, Sara started working at Seven Academy where she helps develop educational apps for children. Her company is a proud contributor and supporter of The Global Literacy Project, which brings tablet computers to children without access to education. She has just been accepted to Concordia University to pursue a Master’s in Educational Technology -Yipee!

The Streets of Zanzibar

Written by Rachel Ouellette

Rachel is a two-time YCI volunteer who recently completed a two week work project in Zanzibar, Tanzania with the Centre for Social Innovation team. She also worked at the YCI Toronto office as the Volunteer Program Assistant from September to January 2015.

As a 6-year license holder who was born and raised in Montreal, it’s become common knowledge to me that Quebec drivers can be pretty aggressive. We have a certain driving culture which, within this organized system, we drive a little over the speed posted on the speed limit signs, alert other drivers when they are not obeying the established rules of the road, and experience the occasional road rage. And the more time goes on, the more I notice people blatantly disregard proper driving etiquette such as using indicators, turning their headlights on at night, stopping at stop signs and the ever frustrating, driving slower in the passing lanes.

DSCF3222When I arrived in Zanzibar, I quickly noticed how few road signs there were and the lack of street lights. However, despite the absence of what are better known to North Americans as driving regulators, I came to see that drivers had an unspoken order amongst themselves and respected each other. The culture of the streets was astonishingly different; the roads were busy and populated by cars, motocycles, dala dalas, bikes and large masses of people who all seemed to have a mutual understanding of the rules of the road and who respectfully coexisted.

Between the roundabouts and speed bumps, drivers manipulated their vehicles in and around each other to reach their destinations. They carefully maneuvered around the various obstacles such as the crowds of students going to and from school, the merchants and markets that crept onto the roads and the motorcycles and bicycles that constantly wove between vehicles. And all the while doing it right hand drive! On roads of all widths, drivers went at their own speeds and passed others by simply honking and weaving around them. It actually amazed me how much honking I heard. Unlike honking at home where it would normally signify telling someone off, in Zanzibar, honking was to alert someone: “I’m passing you!” or “Watch out!” or “Move over!” in a non-aggressive way. They also had an unspoken etiquette about passing in that they instinctively moved over when someone else was going faster than them. In this way, Tanzanian drivers respect one another and are able to communicate without official lanes, signs or rules.


This is one of the many things that make Tanzanian culture different than Canadian culture, and these differences are what contribute to an enriching learning experience that can only come alive when travelling abroad.



Chosen Differences

Written by Christine Moynihan

This was my first experience in Africa – and it has been extraordinary. I left Toronto in minus 20 degree temperatures and arrived to + 30 degrees. Really, a most welcome change!

Zanzibar is a vibrant, busy, beautiful and historic island and I could happily have been “just a tourist” here. However, YCI has given me the great opportunity to see places that an ordinary tourist would never see; an opportunity to live with a local family, to experience Zanzibar as a Zanzibarian – albeit in a small and limited way.

By far the most wonderful part of this journey has been the opportunity to meet and work with the local volunteers at YCI Tanzania and I want to tell you about one in particular – Sharifa Said Ally.


Sharifa has been our guide and translator as Rachel Ouellette and I delivered  four workshops on Environmental Sustainability to 4 different secondary  schools in and around Zanzibar town. In fact, by the second workshop,  Sharifa had become our co-teacher and by the last of the four workshops, she  was really the lead teacher. It was sheer delight to watch her so easily and  gracefully grow into a leadership role.

Sharifa is twenty years old, was born and raised in Zanzibar and is from a  family of four (two brothers and one sister).   Though, like most children in  Zanzibar, she studied English in school, she did not begin intensive English  study until about 6 months ago – and is already an excellent translator. She  would love to study further and perhaps be a teacher someday. Youth  unemployment in Zanzibar is extremely high – almost 70% – and Sharifa as  told me that she believes that her volunteer work with YCI will help her to get  a good job in the future. I will say that wherever she ends up, they will be  lucky to get her!

When I asked her what she wanted me to write about her, she asked me to  specifically mention the importance to her of her Muslim faith, and to  write also about the importance to her of her dress – which, according to the  beliefs of her faith, means that women dress modestly – with long dresses,  full-length sleeves, with head and hair covered at all times when out in public. She very much chooses to dress this way and finds it both appropriate and comfortable. (I did wonder if, in the heat of Zanzibar, this type of dress was oppressively hot – and she adamantly said no, it was quite comfortable.)

As you can see from the photo, she is a beautiful and modern young woman – and her comments to me about her dress are a vital reminder to us to be always aware of and respectful towards chosen differences.

Reflecting on my time in Zanzibar

Written by Jeffrey Padou

Jeffrey is a Youth Ambassador who worked with YCI in Zanzibar in Spring/Summer of 2014.

In Zanzibar, Tanzania, my colleague (Harpreet) and I worked on the Emerging Leaders program. We specifically focused on the second unit of that program which emphasized leadership. In conjunction with this program we also conducted teaching and training on the subjects of English, computers, civic education, CV writing and interview techniques.

I shall highlight that all of the programs we conducted had a tremendous impact upon the participants. English language skills were highly coveted by participants. Computer skills were valued because they allowed students to “get with the times” as well as having applications for personal and job-related purposes. Civic education was something many of the youth were passionate about, and they were looking for ways to learn these skills and share them with others. Although there was a lower number of participants who attended programs on interview techniques and CV writing, those who did attend, loved the topic.

By and far the program that was most impactful was Emerging Leaders. The program had the highest amount of participants and practical training. The participants loved the topic of leadership and the workshops were very impactful- both for the participants and the facilitators – at least for those who were willing to learn about foreign culture and listen to the needs and demands of local people. My recommendation is that this and other such programs are continued.

The experience that one takes away from volunteering with YCI is worthwhile and life-changing – something I will always have with me. The relationships I built with the participants, my colleagues, overseas staff, and the community made it impossible to walk away un-changed.

While in Zanzibar, I found that a major problem facing youth within their community was a lack of both job opportunities, as well as lack of mobility within organizations and industries. The former is the most challenging of all. There are youth in Zanzibar that have Bachelors degrees and college training who cannot even find a job. Many youth in Zanzibar are educated, yet have a hard time finding employment because of poverty, the lack of opportunity, and the disconnect between the government’s interests and the needs of citizens, particularly youth.

Volunteering has changed my outlook, in a way. I am from a foreign culture, but due to so many years living in the Western world I have somewhat not experienced this reality to its fullest extent. This experience has changed my life. It has taught me compassion, and a care for the whole global community and its citizens. I have also learned the power of innovation, leadership, and the resilient youth which all highlight that anything is possible!

My advice for anyone thinking of volunteering with YCI is plain and simple: go with a willingness to learn rather than expecting to teach or help – you will find the impact tremendous. Have a compassionate heart, be innovative and creative, be dedicated and have a tremendous work ethic, and lastly, be open-minded.

Since volunteering with YCI, I have been busy at school, but I also have a vision of impacting my community in Ottawa. Volunteering did change my life. I originally never planned on going to school for teaching or focusing on education; however after this experience I am considering going into the teaching field and specifically teaching abroad, perhaps EFL or ESL.

“It’s the middle of the night, and it’s time for hatchery duty!”

Written by: Madeline Klaver

If I was the protagonist of some sort of weird, hyper realistic novel, I can safely say that it would not be of the action-adventure genre. It wouldn’t be fantasy or science fiction, or romance or mystery. My life is really not novel-writing material, not because I don’t do interesting things sometimes, but because I am definitely not the kind of person who ends up as a protagonist.

As I am a giant nerd, reading is one of my favourite pastimes. I like to read about people going on crazy journeys, exploring the wilderness, discovering new things and not showering for weeks, probably. But even through all of that excitement, I never see myself as one of those protagonists. I’d most likely be the bookish side-character, or the childhood friend that stays back home.

 That’s why it was a little strange that, when I learned about YCI’s Costa Rica project, I was completely hooked. Environmentalism is my weakness, I suppose, and to be fair I’ve always wanted to try my hand at some genuine fieldwork. And sea turtles are some of the coolest animals on the planet. Aside from all that, I’d just spent two years learning about Spanish culture and the Spanish language in school. I couldn’t sign myself up fast enough.

 And that’s how I found myself on a plane to San Jose on December 26th. I had never travelled alone, or much out of Canada, and I had to be coached every step of the way by a pleasant southern stewardess who kept calling me “sweetheart”. Getting off the plane into San Jose was kind of like jumping into the deep end of a pool. After some confusion, I miraculously managed to find my bag and make it outside into a hoard of people trying to get me to take their specific taxi. I walked slowly, and just kind of glanced around blankly until, mercifully, I was found by Berny, our project leader with RJI.

I remember the taxi ride to the hostel really vividly. San Jose was a blur of colours, narrow sidewalks, and Spanish advertisements. I hungrily took in all of the sights, and arrived at the hostel before I knew it.

There, I was greeted by my group. Everyone was in a sort of giddy pre-adventure mood. We had some quick conversation before turning in for what would be the first of many shortened nights’ sleeps.

We piled into a taxi at 3 AM the next morning, then a bus, then another, dustier bus, then a pickup truck, and then arrived at camp at Playa Caletas. We were greeted by an overenthusiastic puppy (who turned out to be quite the kleptomaniac, but that’s another story), and a group of people who were also working on the project. We did a quick tour of the camp, then unpacked for our two-week stay.

 On that very first night, we had a nest of hatchlings to release before dinner. It was so amazing, getting to pick up these tiny squirmy babies and help them find their way safely to the ocean. They were really funny little things. You put them in the bucket and they beat each other down like “RELEASE ME FROM THIS PLASTIC PRISON.” And then you put them on the sand and it’s “Wait, hold up, what is this? Where is this? How do flippers work again? I am going to sit here for at least a full minute.”

Eventually they do get on their way, though, and it’s a really pretty sight.

turtle tracks  Life at camp was very structured and well-put-together, so I was quickly able to  settle into rhythm with the other people working there. That being said, I was really  far out of my comfort zone (remember, not a protagonist here), and I had some  trouble learning how to live outside of my regular routine. The shower was two  buckets of well water, on a raised tile platform. If you’re strategic about time of day,  you might not even have an audience of eight million hermit crabs. The bathroom is  always full of hermit crabs, though. And always smells kind of like… well, a bathroom  in a rustic camp on the beach. It was a big challenge for me to cope without running  water and electricity and clean feet, but I had gone to Costa Rica expecting to  challenge myself, and I focussed on the turtles and the experience instead.

As I adjusted to my surroundings, I had an incredible support network of wonderful people from all around the world. The people in my group were really nice to me, and helped me out when I needed it. I shared stories with people from England, Germany, Costa Rica and all over the United States and Canada. Learning about all of their cultures was really interesting, and one of my favourite memories of my time at camp was New Years’ Eve, when we participated in traditions from everyone’s homes.

At the stroke of midnight, all of us jumped off of logs (into a good new year), ate twelve grapes, hugged everyone, sang “auld lang sine”, then ran around camp with backpacks to guarantee future travels. All the while we talked and laughed and enjoyed the beautiful place we were all sharing.

For reference, here is a panorama of the camp and its structures:

Panorama of camp

And, right across from that is the vast blue ocean:


You can also see a rift in the space-time continuum to the right. Or I’m just bad at taking panoramas. Nah, it’s the first thing.

As for the typical structure of our days, it usually went something like this:

1: Breakfast. I was delighted to discover that sacrificing refrigeration didn’t mean sacrificing milk. I had my sleepy, stare-into-space-and-contemplate-life-over-a-bowl-of-cereal every morning, just like at home. Now with at least 200% more iguanas!

2: Morning routine, including bucket showers, teeth brushing with no running water, and shaking out your clothes because scorpions are a horrifying possibility. (Actually, though, there weren’t that many bugs. Hooray for the dry season!) (Well, technically every bug at camp just flocked to Steph, one of the people in our group.) (Moral of the story: bring Steph) (I’m sorry Steph, if you’re reading this.)

3: It’s definitely better to get chores done earlier in the day. All of the chores are arranged into a handy little chart, and you just find your name and then begin. Chores ranged from everyday things like cooking meals and washing dishes (made more challenging by lack of running water and electricity), to things such as washing the bags used to collect eggs, or burning the toilet paper from the bathroom. I learned how to use a lighter, which is a skill I somehow avoided picking up until this trip. I would die in about five seconds in any intense survival situation.

4: If the whole group had some free time, we could do some exploring! The walk into town was a bit too long (two and a half hours), so we only went there if someone could drive us. However, there was a beach just an hour away that was really beautiful and didn’t have waves that could possibly murder you in the cold blood, like at our beach. We also got to explore Playa Caletas a little bit. There are lots of tide pools with really cool ocean life in them, and there’s also a river down at the end of the beach with some spectacular birds to see. I also collected a lot of rocks on these expeditions. I added them to the collection I started when I was four and thought I finished when I was six.

5: I really have to applaud everyone who ever cooked lunch and dinner. People were able to get really creative with the few foods we had, and everything was delicious. Dinner was usually eaten by the light of a headlamp, as it gets dark really fast when you only have one overhead light to speak of. As a side note: with a headlamp, racoons just look like a pair of glowing eyes. That was an experience.

6: Night time is when the real work began. Turtles prefer to operate by cloak of night, like tiny shelled ninjas or something. Our duties at night were split into two main jobs: patrol and hatchery duty.

7: Good morning traveller, it’s 2 AM! Time for a patrol of the beach. I would meet a few others in the kitchen and then sleepily set off North or South in search of turtle tracks. The stars are really beautiful away from civilization, and the sound of the ocean is something I really miss walking alongside. Either using moonlight or red headlamp light, we walked and searched for tracks and talked a bit amongst ourselves. I myself saw four adult turtles during my three weeks, and we found a whole lot more nests. If a nest was found, we would dig it up, and if a turtle was found, we got to sit and watch her for a while.  Adult turtles are the kind of beauty that takes your breath away. They seem to carry the wisdom of the world with them, and the first time I saw one I felt some sort of life-changing feeling wash over me. I saw three in one night, and even got to catch the eggs for one as she laid them. They were warm and kind of squishy and covered in slime. It was awesome. The fourth turtle I saw was a freak turtle that decided to come up during the day, right near our camp.

I will call her Gloria. Gloria the turtle.

Gloria the turtle  8: Annnnd yes, that is the sound of your alarm. It’s the middle of the night, and it’s time for  hatchery duty! The hatchery is a tented area arranged into squares like so:


A section is marked by an orange tag when there are  eggs in it, and when it’s almost time for the eggs to  hatch, a green fence is put around the nest to  prevent  the turtles from escaping everywhere. Lying  in the  hammock and looking at the stars from the  hatchery is  one of the most peaceful feelings ever. That is, until I’d hear a noise from outside and became hyper-aware of the impending threat of predators. I didn’t actually see any predators, though, in any of my hatchery shifts. I did, however, have a nest of turtles hatch on me.

When turtles first hatch, they just kind of hang out above the sand, looking really displeased with the world. I thought it would take a bit of time for them to really start moving around, but it was only about a minute until I had 70 scrambling babies on my hands, and had to quickly put them into a bucket. Not today, friends. Not today.

My time at Playa Caletas was a life-changing experience. I will never forget the things I learned, about nature and about myself, and I will never forget the people who helped me along the way.

Easing myself back into civilisation was even weirder than trying to get a hold of life at camp. Suddenly my feet were clean, and I had light during night-time, and dear lord, that 15 degree Celsius weather in San Jose was like a death sentence. I felt really weird going into my room on my first night back. There were way too many colours. Like, posters-taking-up-all-my-wall-space amount of colours. My eyes were confused, if that makes any sense. It has also remained steadily around –20 degrees Celsius for the past week. I wear a lot of big sweaters.

I’ve told the story of my trip many times since I got home. People always seem to be really happy for me, saying how proud they are or how jealous they are, or just expressing how much they love turtles. Maybe I’ll never quite be the protagonist of an adventure novel, but my travels are definitely interesting enough to impress those around me, and stick with me forever. If my life is a book, it’s probably still really boring to read. I mean, I just spent like an hour typing. I’m getting off-track. If my life is a book, this trip was a really exciting chapter. I’m looking forward to what the next page will bring.


Written by: Kimalee Phillip, YCI Volunteer in Accra, Ghana

Akwaaba! Having arrived in Ghana on January 13th after an almost 24-hour journey, I was ecstatic to have once again, set my feet on African soil – Ghanaian soil to be exact.

map-ghana3 (1)

My name is Kimalee Phillip and I was selected to be a Program Development Innovator  with Youth Challenge International – a Toronto-based nonprofit organization that  focuses on sending youth volunteers to various parts of the world to undertake and  support educational, organizational development, health and wellness initiatives. During  my stay in Ghana, I am tasked with creating a fundraising strategy for an organization  called Enactus, Ghana and a programming/skills development training for the YMCA  (the Y) in Accra. I only have 5 weeks to complete these important and detailed tasks  therefore the pressure is definitely on but the challenge is exciting!

There’s a level of familiarity that I feel here in Ghana. Perhaps it’s because the chances of  this land being that of my ancestors since I am an African, born and raised in Grenada is  quite high. In fact, I’m pretty sure that that this is the reason; however whatever it is,  being here feels right and I am truly humbled to have been granted the opportunity to  return.

The YCI staff, Naana, Fred and Nii warmly greeted me in Accra and their continued  support throughout my journey is welcomed and appreciated. Completing my assigned  tasks, more or less on an independent basis, presents its own challenges so I was encouraged when after having met Kwabena and his team at the Y and Baba and Beatrice at Enactus, and realizing how warm and excited they were about working together; I am convinved that the actual process of completing these strategies will be more informative and enjoyable than the final product which is great!


Kwabena Nketia Addae – Executive Director of the YMCA

Kwabena has been at the Y since 2002 and remains motivated by the work done at the Y because he has witnessed the changes and impacts that some of the Y’s programs have had on the lives of young people. At the end of his tenure, he would like to see more young people empowered and motivated to take on additional leadership positions, both at the Y and beyond.

Kwarteng Frimpong – Programs Coordinator

Kwarteng has been with the Y Ghana for a little over a year and is motivated by his desire to make changes in the lives of the youth members of the Ghana YMCA. He is hoping to witness a transformed and more vibrant Ghana YMCA.



When asked why he works with Enactus, Baba said that as a businessperson, he has always been interested in connecting business to the broader community and thus for him, Enactus’ three-pronged approach of linking business to academia and to the community (and environment) was an immediate draw. He also sees his work as an extension of his own spiritual beliefs and responsibilities to humankind and the environment.


Beatrice was first introduced to Enactus while still at school. She appreciates Enactus as it has allowed her the opportunity to actualize the theoretical and pedagogical learning in tangible and practical ways. Currently, Beatrice is exploring her options to pursue further schooling here in Ghana.

I’ve only highlighted a few of the people that I’ll be closely working with however, many lovely people who greet me everyday and who help to make my everyday experiences comfortable must be named. Veronica, Linda, Ben, Reginald and Mr. Adams at the Y, thank you. Of course, there’s still Mama Mina, Francis, Ama, Mina and the lovely people at my homestay but that’s a topic for another post.

To this journey continuing. Medasi pa.

My first volunteer trip!

Written by: Stephanie Ann Juganaden, YCI volunteer in Costa Rica

I have spent the best 2 weeks of my life (so far) with the best group of people possible. We were 5 chosen for the project and came from various parts of Canada. Maddie, Kate, and Tom came from Ontario. Jess is from Nova Scotia and I am from Quebec. I believe that it was destiny that brought us together in this beautiful part of the world. Costa Rica’s landscape tops all of the other places I’ve been to so far. The whole country is simply gorgeous. Everywhere I looked, there was always something remarkable to engrave into my brain. Whenever I will feel sad, I can just close my eyes and imagine Playa Caletas and the beautiful sand and the crashing of the waves along with the stars and the moon shining your path at night. If I were asked to pick my happy place, it would have been in one of those hammocks we had at camp overlooking the ocean.


Obviously, we were in awe with the beauty that resides in Costa Rica but we still kept our feet anchored to the ground in order to do what we were here to do: Turtle Conservation. We’ve visited one of Pretoma’s installments at Playa Caletas home of the Olive Ridley sea turtles. The protected beach covered 5km from the north to the south end and was separated by 50 posts every 100m. At night, our job was to patrol the beach in two groups: North and South. We left during low tide to ensure enough space for the turtles to walk up the beach and nest and for us to not get sucked into the ocean. I was very fortunate to have seen two turtles and to have released hatchlings on my first night. I also understood that the racoons are notorious for eating freshly nested turtle eggs. We have to protect the survival of these animals and  the best way we can do it is by collecting the eggs and placing them into our hatchery. The hatchery is a small space at the northern part of the camp grounds that houses all the nests that have been collected throughout patrol. Once we collect eggs, we bring them back to the camp and dig a light bulb-shaped hole into the ground (like a nesting turtle) and leave the eggs to incubate for 45 days. Throughout our stay, we’ve released more than 1300 baby turtles into the ocean! They are so adorable!


Throughout the day, we each had our own chores revolving around the cleanliness of the camp. We either had to cook, wash dishes, wash the patrol egg bags, sweep the cabinas, clean the toilet and shower, throw away the trash and compost, get water from the well, and burn the paper (in Costa Rica, they do not flush toilet paper into the toilet bowls, they burn the contents instead). At night, usually after supper, we would have either Hatchery duty or Night Patrol. These would alternate every day. For night patrol, we would be split up into two groups and would walk along the north or the south side in search for turtle tracks. We were lucky to have had the moon to shine our way and we did not need a headlamp to spot the turtle tracks. You can spot an Olive Ridley track based on the asymmetrical markings in the sand.

At first I thought they were bike tracks or tire tracks but we soon learned that whenever we see one of those, a turtle should not be too far away! Throughout my stay, I saw approximately 10 turtles and 4 of them on our last day for patrolling. Once we spot the turtle, we would let her find her spot to nest and would wait for 20 eggs to drop before collecting the rest. At this stage, she is in a trance and cannot feel or hear anything going on around her. These are perfect moments for predators such as poachers and racoons to attack her. Instead, we tagged her and saw her going back safely into the water and her babies were safe with us. On our way back, we stop by the hatchery to place the turtle eggs for incubation. The day following patrol, we had hatchery duty which was a 3 hour shift from 6pm-5am. I really liked the 3-5am shift because you can see the sunrise and you can also go out for census at 5:30am to see if some of the nests that we could not find were predated (destroyed by the racoons or other animals.)


What I loved the most about this project is that we got to work together as a team and each person contributed their passion for the turtle conservation project. Everyone was lively and we all looked out for each other. Most of us have faced our fears. I for one have never been camping in my life and I am terrified of bugs, but not anymore! I enjoyed the escape from our rushed/constantly “on-the-go” lifestyle here at home. My biggest stress was making sure I don’t step on one of thousands of hermit crabs on the beach or cooking for 14 people with the remaining batch of produce, before receiving our next order. Also, this experience has taught me that we take running water for granted back home. We were there during the dry season and it did not rain once! The well quickly dried up and we had to use drinking water to clean ourselves or to wash the dishes!

I am thankful to have met these beautiful souls along the way and I don’t think that my experience would have been the same without them. I would recommend this project to anyone who wants to get outside of their comfort zone and wants to explore Costa Rica. Note that Playa Caletas is a minimum of 1.5h walk from the campsite to the town of San Francisco de Coyote. There is also a gorgeous path through the mountain from Playa Caletas to Playa Coyote. You also have to stop by La Veranera (a restaurant by the beach) for a refreshing drink and generous amounts of food. The locals are great and you get to practice your Spanish skills. Thank you to the YCI group, Berny, the people from Turtle Trax and Pretoma, RJI and YCI for making this one of the best trips of my life.